Syd Barrett is one of my favorites. I know I'm getting old because people these days are like "What's a Sid Burrutt?"
I'll forgive you this time for even asking that question. He was one of the founding members, and the first principal songwriter for none other than "mudda fuddin" Pink Floyd. Yes, before all of the songs you know and love became huge, Syd was pumping out the craziest songs ever. They even make psychedelic prog-rock listeners go "Wow. WTF." For instance, check out this gem:
You're bumping "The Gnome" from Pink Floyd's first album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. As you listen, you might be imagining someone like David the Gnome.
Guess again. It sounds like a friendly song, but he's actually talking about what are known as DMT elves:
This is the type of thing Syd was into. He'd get so high on potent psychedelics that he'd meet entities that weren't just a product of his own mind and imagination. And then he'd write cutesy songs about them.
And this ultimately was his downfall. A lot of people talked about the guy after he basically "lost it" and couldn't manage his spot in the band and the spotlight. They said "Oh, he's just a burn-out from too much LSD." Later, looking back, others in the psychology profession have tried to pin him down with everything from schizophrenia to Aspergers. But what we now know is one of the first cases we can recognize for what's called HPPD, or...
Hallucinogenic Persisting Perception Disorder
Just like we now consider Karen Carpenter to be one of the earliest recognizable, due to her high-profile as a pop star, cases of anorexia, it's become glaringly obvious that Barrett suffered from HPPD until the end of his days on July 7th, 2006.
To keep a long story short, HPPD is basically a light-level trip that never stops, even after the psychoactives have worn off. "Light-level" is a relative term, of course, but it includes effects like visual static, tracers, color inversions, breathing landscapes, flowing materials, etc. It wouldn't be much of an issue for someone very comfortable with those effects, however the neurochemical situation makes it a lot worse.
The hallucinatory effects of HPPD are accompanied by other extreme psychological problems like depersonalization, derealization, panic attacks, and major depression.
This illness is rare, but very real. I'll admit that some of my college escapades have left me with visual static in extreme dark or extremely bright environments, along with the occasional "cartoon landscape" flashback. Most everything I see is overlaid with visual snow like this:
HPPD is so rare that it wasn't included in the Diagnostics and Statical Manual of Mental Disorders (a real interesting read if you get the chance) until the 4th edition. The fifth is still being worked on.
Thank you, guys, for all of the great music you wrote and played for us over the decades. Syd, thank you for helping shape the direction and future of Pink Floyd. Your work was my favorite, and "Piper" remains my favorite record from the band. Visit the official sites of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd.
We remember you and honor your contributions.